CUNY Announces Four New Holiday Designations

Courtesy of CUNY

By Shlomie Katash 

Reporting Assistance by Kate Dempsey


   CUNY announced on Feb. 14 that, starting in the Spring 2025 semester, all CUNY schools will recognize Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Lunar New Year, and Diwali as official school holidays, whereby students will not have classes on those days. CUNY, which is now in line with New York City public schools, is one of the first coalition of universities in the nation to take this measure.

   Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are both Islamic holidays, with the former marking the end of the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, and the latter known as the Feast of Sacrifice. Next year, they are predicted to fall on Mar. 31 and June 5, respectively. Lunar New Year is celebrated by many Asian communities as the turning of the calendar, falling on Jan. 29 in 2025. CUNY will recognize Diwali, or the Hindu Festival of Lights, on Oct. 20.

  “With this vote, the Board of Trustees has taken an important step to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at CUNY,” said CUNY Board of Trustees Chairperson William C. Thompson Jr. in a statement released on Feb. 14. “For an institution like ours, whose students observe many faiths and mirror the great diversity of our city, we are pleased to assure them the freedom and flexibility to celebrate with their families and communities during these important days of  observance.”

   Introducing these holidays to the CUNY calendar has been a success three years in the making. In May 2021, BC student leaders organized efforts to cancel classes on Eid, citing the pressures they placed on Muslim students.

   “It was something I personally cared about a lot as well as it was unfair to have to choose between a very important religious practice and time with family versus our academic success,” Iqura Naheed, then press director for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), told The Vanguard. Naheed, along with senators Amina Tariq and Andy Ebbin, introduced a resolution proposing the accommodation.

   Around the same time, a Muslim student at BC created a petition to document student support for the idea across CUNY campuses, which amassed almost 16,000 signatures within a few weeks. Though the policy was supported by the BC administration, it still had several barriers before becoming official.

   “Making these days designated holidays is a CUNY policy, as opposed to a Brooklyn College policy, so it was not up to [BC] President [Michelle] Anderon’s discretion to pass it; it had to be approved by the Board of Trustees,” Carrie Ebbin, current USG President, told The Vanguard.

   Many leaders over the years have advocated for the holiday change, including Naheed during her presidency, Aharon Grama, president of USG from 2022-2023, Ebbin, Student Trustee Salimatou Domboya, who advocated for the holidays at CUNY’s University Student Senate policy meetings, and President Anderson. The problem faced by advocates for the change noted that sustained effort would be needed in order to make it happen. 

   “When we started our official administration, myself and Iqura noticed that it seemed like all the work from the previous year stopped, and that in order for this to go through we must have a multi-year plan ensuring this stays on the agenda,” Grama told The Vanguard.

   Momentum picked back up in Spring 2022. A petition advocating for an official Eid holiday was unanimously approved by 29 members of BC administration, faculty, and student leaders on March 22. Naheed and then Events Director Samia Ahmed visited Albany during the CUNY Caucus to ascertain details on how their recommendation could become CUNY policy. 

   Through uncertainty, Naheed and other student leaders remained undeterred and continued to unite and vocalize Muslim concerns on campus, in part by hosting the first Eid celebration at BC in May 2022. To Student Trustee Doumbouya, the persistent advocacy of students helped to bring about the change.

   “It really helped to have students out there also that kept talking about it…Using what’s happening on the local campuses […] constantly putting pressure – that made it work. And then I finally heard that they were working on it, so I kept pushing until I got information that it was in the books,” Doumbouya told The Vanguard.

   Throughout the final year of Grama’s tenure and the first half of Ebbin’s, the presidents stressed the importance of CUNY addressing student concerns by adding these holidays to the calendar. Both prioritized the point and repeatedly requested updates from CUNY in their monthly Policy Council meetings with BC administration.

   Though the recognition of these holidays represents an important shift toward inclusivity at CUNY, Ebbin emphasized that more work must be done.

   “While this is a major step, there is still a way to go to make CUNY as inclusive as possible,” Ebbin told The Vanguard. “I would like everyone to know that even if your religious practice is not considered a designated CUNY holiday, you still have the right to accommodation.”

   Students who still need accommodation for a holiday can reach out to the Division of Student Affairs to obtain an exemption. For the organizers behind getting the holidays passed, it stands as a testament to student advocacy to enact change. 

   “Advocacy works. Our time is valuable, our discussions are valuable, even the ones behind the scenes,” Doumbouya told The Vanguard. “It’s a win for all of us, and I think we should all be proud of this, and keep moving towards more changes and keep moving towards equity and having the best environment for our student body.”

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